Archive for June, 2012

Review: Once Upon A Time In China 2 (1991)

Posted in David Chiang, Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Tsui Hark, Xin Xin Xiong, Yuen Woo Ping with tags , , on June 25, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jet Li, Rosamund Kwan, Donnie Yen, David Chiang, Xin Xin Xiong, Mok Siu Chung, Zhang Tie Lin

Fight Choreography By: Yuen Woo Ping, Donnie Yen

Directed By Tsui Hark

In the first film Wong Fei Hung (Li) was resistant to the westernization of China, while Aunt Yee and Bucktooth So embraced it. The sequel picks up some time later, and Fei-Hung’s views have evolved, and while he is still hesitant, he tries to get used to western customs and doesn’t quite view it as such a detriment to destroying Chinese culture as he once did, but upon arriving with Aunt Yee (Kwan) and Foon (now played by Mok Siu Chung, taking over for Yuen Biao) in Canton they discover a cult called the White Lotus, who have extreme views about westernization, and want to crush and destroy it, and anyone, Chinese or other, who represent it. The film opens with the White Lotus showing exactly how extreme they are in a scene where they burn western paintings, clocks, and even an American dog, which is just wrong.

Once again Aunt Yee, who dresses in western clothing, finds herself abused and embarassed by the locals, who consider her a traitor, many supporters of the White Lotus, and she finds herself quickly in their crosshairs. things get complicated, and continue to do so as Wong Fei Hung and goon attend a medical conference that gets attacked by the White Lotus, and they receive help from Dr. Sun (Zhang) who turns out to be more than just a simple doctor, and secretly plots against the White Lotus with his cohort Luk Ho Dung (Chiang). Wong Fei-Hung’s plate gets even fuller as he tries to protect them on their mission and protect Foon and Yee (not to mention his feelings for Yee) and comes into contention with the local constable Commander Lan (Yen), whose true allegiances may very well be to the White Lotus…

Once again Jet Li is fantastic as the reserved Master Wong Fei-Hung, and brings the same grace and intelligence to the character as he did in the original. Rosamund Kwan also does a great job again as Aunt Yee, but I found Mok Siu Ching not nearly as good a Foon as Yuen Biao was. Some of that may be that the story “dumbed down” the character of Foon, and didn’t seem to reflect the character growth he had in the first film. Donnie Yen was pretty good as the commander, but is more of a typical bad guy rather than anything special. It was great to see David Chiang (The Water Margin, Five Shaolin Masters) on film side by side with Jet Li, even if David didn’t fight. One thing I found missing from the original was a truly great scene like the one Bucktooth So had in the first film regarding a dying patient. In fact I missed So immensely in this film, since he represented a Chinese man who was so westernized he couldn’t read or speak Chinese very well.

The fights are also great, and more of them than in the first film, but I’m not so sure the fights are better. There is a little more wirework, particularly at the end fight in the White Lotus temple. The fights versus Donnie Yen was a great showcase of staff fighting, some of the best ever done in film, but I was really hoping for a hand-to-hand confrontation between the two, but the White Lotus fight made up for some of that. Woo Ping pulls off some imaginative fights, the most imagination saved for the White Lotus temple fight and the siege on the Consulate building. The best thing is these fights are still in service to the story, and not the other way around.

Once again fellow blogger Dangerous Meredith really breaks down these fights, and you can read those here.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Jet Li had one of the best staff fights versus Donnie Yen, but I wish Donnie had more to do. The White Lotus and Consulate fights were well done and brought the right amount of tension and excitement to the film.  Jet Li and Woo Ping still make magic together.

STUNTWORK: (9) The stunts were pretty elaborate in regards to the fight choreography, which they pulled off brilliantly. Their best work came with the Temple Fight and Consulate attacks.

STAR POWER: (10) Jet Li was working on all cylinders here, and Donnie Yen is now at the top of his game, but his talents were evident even here. Rosamund Kwan was good, but it was a real treat to see David Chiang in kung-fu film again!

FINAL GRADE: (9) Not quite as good as the original by a hair, Once Upon A Time in China 2 is a great film that successfully continues (and evolves) the story of Wong Fei-Hung and his friends.

NEXT: Jean-Claude Van Damme takes on half of Thailand in Kickboxer!

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Review: The Perfect Weapon (1991)

Posted in Al Leong, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, James Hong, James Lew, Jeff Imada, Jeff Speakman, Professor Toru Tanaka with tags , on June 19, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jeff Speakman, James Hong, Mako, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (CHT), Professor Toru Tanaka, James Lew, Jeff Imada, Al Leong

Fight Choreography by Ricky Avery

Directed by Mark DiSalle

In the early 90’s Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme ruled the Hollywood martial arts film world, and there seemed to be no one who could break out of B-movie hell to challenge them, until a kenpo master trained by Ed Parker came to the fore named Jeff Speakman, and even though this would be his only real “big” Hollywood film, he made a first film that really did challenge the Big Two…

Jeff Speakman stars as Jeff Sanders, an otherwise normal looking construction worker who, as we see in flashbacks, grew up a troubled kid after the death of his mother, trying to live with a stern father and a little brother who idolized him. Family friend Kim (Mako) tells Jeff’s father about a “special” school where he can channel his anger and find focus, and before long Jeff becomes a badass kenpo practitioner until he jacks up a football player and sends him to the hospital, and is cast out by his father. Now Jeff returns to see his old mentor Kim, but things aren’t well in happytown, where the local Chinese Mafia families are at war with each other, and Jeff finds himself in deep trouble when he intervenes, causing a chain of events that leads to Kim’s death. Along with his little brother, now a police officer himself, Jeff takes on Yung (Hong), the man who ordered Kim’s death in an effort to get his revenge. The question is whether Jeff’s truly learned how to control himself…

The story is a by the numbers story except for one thing that I thought was pretty original: Jeff’s an idiot. Really, a grade-A fool whose fists are deadly weapons. He’s a simple guy who reacts first and thinks later, making him easily manipulated by Yung and  constantly trying to control his anger to the point he can’t think too terribly much about anything else. I actually like the fact that he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, and rather than finding easier ways to do things, he runs into everything and wrecks house, but somehow finds a way to move ahead in his quest. Jeff Speakman does a good job of portraying Jeff for his first starring role, and has some screen presence. Mako is…well, Mako, and does a good job as he usually does playing Mako. James Hong chews up the screen as Yung, but CHT is woefully underused as henchman Kai. But no self respecting action film would be complete without the greatest henchman who ever lived, the great Al Leong. Professor Toru Tanaka gets the lion’s share of the bad guy scenes, and it’s not hard to see why. Tanaka’s imposing frame gives him such a screen presences as an unstoppable baddie that it feels a little cheap how Jeff finally takes him down, but I’d stick Toru Tanaka up there with Bolo Yeung: two dudes I wouldn’t want to mess with unless I was inside a very large tank about a mile away.

The fight choreography was well done for a Hollywood martial arts film, and the director had the good sense to let the action speak for itself rather than editing it to hell or doing too many close-ups. This film is the only real film to showcase kenpo karate, and does so admirably. The best fight really comes in the middle of the film as Jeff takes on James Lew and two others. They are the only characters other than Jeff who know martial arts, so it good to see Kenpo versus other styles, however brief. The other fights rock on as Jeff uses his feet, fists, escrima sticks and knives in a showcase of his style. I’ll say this, Speakman had some of the fastest hands I’ve ever seen onscreen.

Jeff Speakman didn’t make too many more films after this, but he’s become one of the best martial arts instructors in the country, and youtube is full of his seminars and demos. He may not have become a superstar, but he did make a great 90’s film, and when you can perform katas to Snap’s The Power, well, that puts this film into classic territory for me:

That and the coat. That’s the baddest ass hero’s jacket I’ve ever seen. I need one.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) This film shows off kenpo better than any I’ve ever seen, and it keeps things fast but coherent, and Jeff looks fantastic. The end fight was a little disappointing, but the gym fight and the warehouse fight more than make up for it.

STUNTWORK (7) Well done, but nothing to write home about. Outside of a flipped car the stunt men really didn’t do anything special.

STAR POWER: (7) Jeff’s star never really took off, but this film is a who’s who of Hollywood Asian mainstays such as Mako, James Hong, James Lew, Al Leong, and Jeff Imada. The biggest star would turn out to be the one person with the least amount of screen time in the film: Mariska Hargitay of Law and Order: SVU.

Final Grade: (7.5) A fun filled martial arts film that showcases the style of kenpo karate and introduces Jeff Speakman as well as featuring one of the best early 90’s songs of all time!

NEXT: Jet Li and Donnie Yen go fist to fist in Once Upon A Time In China 2!

Once Upon a Time In Shanghai Teaser! (2013)

Posted in Andy On, Sammo Hung on June 16, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Philip Ng has been around for quite a while, doing stunt work and starring in a few assorted movies, mostly well know for the Wing Chun series starring Nicolas Tse. In fact he’s known as the Wing Chun guy, but really he’s a Choy Lay Fut guy. I know this because he is my sifu’s sifu’s son, and here he is, getting the chance to show off what he can really do, and in the same way that Jackie Chan and Jet Li’s careers took off, he gets Yuen Woo Ping as his fight choreographer and director, not to mention co-stars in Sammo Hung and Andy On. Yep, this is my must see for the start of 2013! Check out the teaser trailer below:

 

Review: Armour of God 2: Operation Condor (1991)

Posted in Jackie Chan, Kenneth Lo with tags , on June 14, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jackie Chan, Ken Lo, Shoko Ikeda, Carol Cheng, Eva Cobo de Garcia

Fight Choreography by Jackie Chan

Directed by Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan’s first foray into the well mined by Indiana Jones was a great success, so of course he would go back to try again, but this time he would up the stunts, the comedy, everything got turned up to 11, but as with most of his ’90’s fare, there was just  a little something missing…

The film opens with a great pre-credits action scene where Asian Hawk (Chan) tries to take a group of green crystals from a group of natives, but as it always seems to happen, things go well until Hawk find out too late what the natives truly valued, and has to run for his life, and escapes in what must be the greatest plastic ball ride of all time. Afterward we find that Hawk is now working for the very man he tried to steal a piece of the Armor of God from in the first film. Hawk must’ve had some later success working for the dude since he totally lost the Armor, since both men are friends now. Hawk, along with Ada (Cheng) are tasked with tracking down a cache of Nazi gold hidden in an abandoned military base somewhere in the African desert. Hawk follows the lead to a relative of one of the German officers, Elsa (Garcia), but she herself is being stalked by a group of mysterious middle eastern men who want the gold for themselves. Soon Hawk teams up with Ada and Elsa and head for the desert where they find that Adolf (no irony there) and his group of mercenary thugs are also looking for the gold, and after a lot of mishaps Asian Hawk finds himself in a fight to survive Adolf’s men and the traps within the base, and do all this and protecting his friends as well…

The story is flimsy, but still entertaining. Jackie is fun as the playfully confident Asian Hawk, still finding interesting ways to deposit gum into his mouth. Carol Cheng also holds herself up well as Ada, the stuck-up mission leader who isn’t as smart as she thinks she is, and Eva Cobo de Garcia, in her first role, is able to keep up with the comedy around her. The only weak link is this desert girl they also team up with midway through the film. She serves no real purpose, and I found her distracting. Adolf wasn’t quite as menacing as he should’ve been, but the way his story is ended was well done.

But who watches a Jackie Chan film for the story? The stunts and fights are the name of the game here, and it’s here the film shines, as Jackie commits some hellacious stunts, and I just have to say, there is a special stuntman out there I have to give mad props to: the guy who was sweeping the floor when Jackie rode by being chased by several goons in cars. The way that poor bastard hit the concrete was nothing short of epic. I swore up and down that guy got killed, and was the biggest Holy Sh**t moment in the film, at least for me. Fast forward and watch this poor bastard at mark 2:47:

Give that guy a Golden Horse! Actually, get him some Vicotin. And a chiropractor. Jackie’s stunts include the crazy bouncy ball ride and his jump from the motorcycle to just about the entire ending of the film, but nothing beats the wind tunnel fight scenes, which were just sublime.

The fights are also just a work of Jackie Chan art, and the best fight was Jackie versus the thugs on a series of tilting platforms as they jump from one to another, and then the final fight in the wind tunnel, which has to be a first for kung fu films. I was hoping for a bigger fight from Ken Lo, but his partner was good enough, and was giving Jackie a run for his money before the fan kicks up and the fun begins. As always, Jackie moves like water, and is so fluid he makes every fighting move look so effortless. While the fights are fantastic, they are choreographed for fun rather than having him place his opponents in traction, which his 80’s choreography excelled at (Sammo Hung was involved directly and indirectly in many of those early films, and his style of choreography–or rather the finishing move choreography–probably influenced his “little brother” Jackie at the time).

Operation Condor is a worthy sequel to Armor of God, and it’ll be great to see the Hawk return in Chinese Zodiac!

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) No one knows how to great inventive fight scenes like Jackie, and his stunt team did a great job following the choreography.

STUNT WORK: (10) Damn right, and that guy I referenced gave it this rating, though it would’ve been high because all of the stunt work, especially the wind tunnel fight, and the car stunts, were just awesome. But nothing beats “that guy”.

STAR POWER: (10) Jackie Chan was a superstar, and this during the height of his stardom. The other female actors were nothing to write home about, mostly being supermodels of one sort or other, but were adequate.

FINAL GRADE: (9) One of Jackie’s most fun films, and that’s saying something. Terrific entertainment featuring high adventure, comedy and exceptional fight choreography. Oh yeah, and “That Guy”.

NEXT: Do you hear “The Power” by Snap? Jeff Speakman is The Perfect Weapon!

Review: The Girl From The Naked Eye (2012)

Posted in James Lew, Jason Yee, Lateef Crowder, Ron Yuan on June 8, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jason Yee, Ron Yuan, Lateef Crowder, Dominique Swain, Sasha Grey, James Lew, Samantha Streets

Fight choreography by Ron Yuan

Directed by David Ren

Every once in a while someone tries to do something different within the martial arts genre, and as someone who watches so many, I appreciate them when they come around, and it’s even better when we get more than one in a twelve month time span. Bunraku experimented with combining a samurai film with a western and tossing them into a blender with a box of crayons, and now we get a hard-boiled film noir story that introduces a new face to the world of martial arts stars. Jason Yee has been around in Hollywood, doing small films and getting small roles, but Jason, a U.S. San-Shou champion, now takes center stage to show off his stuff.

Yee stars as Jake, a bodyguard who works for glorified pimp Simon (Yuan) at a strip club called The Naked Eye. Jake’s job is to drive around Simon’s girls when they go out as escorts to make sure they stay safe and more importantly to make sure his clients pay up when their fun is over. The film opens as we find the dead body of one of them, a girl named Sandy (Streets) whom Jake finds murdered. As the film progresses we find out why he cares for this particular girl over all of the others while Jakes rampages across the city in an attempt to find her killer and take his revenge. As all things do in a film noir things go south quickly after Jake beats up Simon and takes his black book, which has the names of all of Simon’s clients. All kinds of hell begins to rain down on Simon, and he has to dodge Simon and his men, a kill crazy corrupt cop, and the men Jake owes a lot of money to, and try to survive the night long enough to solve the mystery of Sandy’s death….

The story has a good flow to it, and the cinematography and camera angles create a convincing film noir which actually falls in line with the look of many Korean thrillers coming out nowadays. I actually think this film could have worked well in black and white. The voice overs by Jake also lend to the “noir-ness” of the film, and David Ren gets a lot of things right. The script is fairly well written, and really show a seedy underworld that left me wanting to wash myself afterward, and more nudity than I’ve seen in a Hollywood film since the heyday of the 80’s. Jason Yee is convincing as the loser/fighter Jake, and brings the appropriate hard-boiled edge to him. Ron Yuan is fantastic as Simon, and has some of the funniest lines in the film, and he’s able to create a character you kinda like and despise all at once. Sasha Grey (The Girlfriend Experience)  is in the film in what amounts to a glorified cameo, and the same goes for Dominque Swain (Face/Off).

The fight choreography is well done, keeping everything within the film noir spectrum and style, and all of the fights keep a realistic tone, but there are two standout moments: the first is the first fight between Jason Yee and Lateef Crowder in hotel hallway. The fighting is tight since the hallway is small, and it was interesting to see how Lateef uses his capoeira in such a tight space. The absolute best fight comes at the end of the film and begins with the rematch between Yee and Crowder, and then, in an ode to the film Oldboy .Jake takes on four or five police officers in a side-scrolling scene that is terrifically choreographed by Ron Yuan. I was giggling in entertainment glee the entire time as I watched this fight unfold, and the orchestral score that accompanied it is one of my favorites, “Bolero” as performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Ron Yuan does a great job of melding the martial arts fights into the film noir and darkness of the rest of the film, and once again, the final fight is absolutely great. All of the other fights were good, but the Lateef Crowder stuff is exceptionally well done.

STUNTWORK: (8) The stuntmen did a really good job, especially the one poor guy who fell on his head and he rolled down the balcony, and the stuntmen who fought during the  side scrolling fight did a fantastic job.

STAR POWER: (7) Jason Yee is a relative unknown, but I think he’ll be much better known after this film comes out. Ron Yuan is great as always, but Dominique Swain and Sasha Grey weren’t really in the film enough to really matter. Lateef’s record of being the best martial artist in films to have never won an onscreen fight continues untarnished!

FINAL GRADE: (8) A terrific martial arts film noir that brings a fresh voice to the world of martial arts films, and Jason Yee has the makings of a star, with bone crunching fights and a terrific finale that will leave martial arts film fans smiling.

The film’s release date is June 15th, 2012

 

NEXT: Jackie Chan returns as the Asian Hawk in Armor of God 2: Operation Condor!

 

Review: Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)

Posted in Chui Kuo (also Philip Kwok), Cyril Raffaelli, Mark Dacascos with tags , on June 5, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Samuel Le Bihan, Marc Dacascos, Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci

Fight Choreography by Philip Kwok

Directed by Christophe Gans

Someone had the audacity to take one part French period costume political drama, mix it with a romance, tie it into the French Revolution…and top it off with one part monster movie and one part martial arts, and without a doubt there is no way this should’ve worked, but damn it all if it does, and brilliantly so.

The film begins in France circa 1764, in the town of Gevaudan, where a beast has been killing the peasants for weeks. News of the attacks make their way to Paris, where the King dispatchs an investigator, the Royal Taxidermist Gregoire de Fronsac (Le Bihan) and his Native American companion Mani (Dacascos) who quickly get embroiled in the drama surrounding the family of De Morangias but find a friend in Marquis Thomas d’Apcher, and they will need them as there are not many they can trust, particularly when Fronsac gets closer to Marianne De Morangias, which draws the ire of her brother Jean-Francois (Cassel) who harbors quite a few dangerous secrets of his own, and add to this a mysterious prostitute Sylvia (Bellucci) and before long Fronsac and Mani are faced with dangers far beyond that of just the beast, who may not be just a mindless animal, but a political tool…

The film style lets itself be known right from the start as it begins with an attack by the beast and a fight between Mani and some locals. The story does a good job of introducing its multitudes of characters, and the beast’s attacks are brutal. The special effects done for the beast isn’t the latest and greatest CGI, but is good enough. They do a good job of hiding the beast for as long as possible Jaws style, and it works. Samuel Le Bihan plays Fronsac with charm that hides just how dangerous a man he really is, (and hot damn in one scene he proves it as he infiltrates the stronghold of the hunters and just goes all Charles Bronson on them) and while his part is mostly silence, Marc Dacascos gives his best performance here, and brings a badass grace (if there is such a thing) to the role, Monica Bellucci brings out tons of femme fatale sexiness to the role of Sylvia, and Vincent Cassel plays a great villain who becomes more unhinged and the film goes on. All of the other actors look like they stepped out of Masterpiece Theater, meaning they were exactly what they needed to be for the story to work. Kudos to Gans for making all of this work!

The fight choreography by Philip Kwok (real name Chui Kuo, veteran of films like the Ten Tigers of Kwangtung, Shaolin Rescuers, Crippled Avengers, Invincible Shaolin and the Five Deadly Venoms) starts off simple, but the fight choreography becomes more complex and exciting as the film goes on, perfectly mimicing the pacing of the story. Dacascos has his best onscreen fights since Drive, and Le Bihan also responds well and has quite a few good fight scenes himself, and Vincent Cassel is able to hang with the speed of the choreography as well. An incredible job done by all involved.

Christophe Gans makes what is still the only French Revolution-martial arts-monster film, and he found a way to make it all work beautifully.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) Extremely well done. Philip plays to the strengths of his actors, and is able to create fast and fluid fight scenes. His most impressive work was in making Samuel Le Bihan look almost as good as Dacascos, which is no small feat. Marc is at his very best here.

STUNTWORK: (8) The stuntmen–and women–showed their stuff, and performed their side of the fight choreography well. Cyril Raffaelli (District B-13) served as one of the stuntmen, and the quality of their work is well shown.

STAR POWER: (9) Marc Dacascos never really became the star he should’ve, and this film is his best overall film. Vincent Cassel would go on to make some Hollywood films like Ocean’s Twelve and Thirteen, and Black Swan, and Monica Bellucci would star in a slew of films like the Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions, and Shoot ‘Em Up.

FINAL GRADE: (8)  A film that is two parts facts and one LARGE part fiction, it’s a fun mish-mash of genres that filmmakers need to take chances on more often. Easily Marc Dacascos’ best overall film.

NEXT: Jason Yee, Lateef Crowder, Sasha Grey and Ron Yuan fall into mystery with The Girl from the Naked Eye!